The Red Wedding wouldn’t have had the impact it had without Ramin Djawadi, the man behind the music of HBO’s Game of Thrones. Djawadi, who has also composed scores for HBO’s Westworld and a handful of films, makes his music a character itself, adding both weight and ease to brutal battles and dramatic scenes alike.
Now, years in the making, the Game of Thrones Live Concert Experience stops at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 25. The show will feature music from all six seasons of the hit program performed by a live orchestra—including a few songs by Djawadi himself—that takes the audience on a trip through Westeros, from King’s Landing to north of the Wall.
When you write the music for Game of Thrones, you don’t have the completed scene, you’re just going off a conversation or an idea. What is your approach like?
We talk, and then based on what the [writers] envision, I try to put [those emotions] into the music and then find the right notes and tone. Then, once I have the visual in front of me, I can obviously tweak it. … I can let the music flow first, and then we can deal with adjusting it to the actual picture.
If I have the visual, even if it’s not at the actual length yet. For example, a battle scene might be six minutes long and then they trim it down to four minutes—I’ll just let the visual run in the background. I don’t try to be too specific about it, but I try to capture the overall mood of the scene. I like to work like that a lot.
So much of the music is fundamental to the storytelling in GOT, adding extra layers and a lot of stress at times. Do you like torturing people?
What’s fun with Game of Thrones is that you never know what’s going to happen next, right? It’s fun to do the scene with the music where you can kind of—torturing people is a funny way to say it—mislead people or lead people. Sometimes you write the music so that people really are guided [toward what] they should know, but then it’s fun to do the opposite, too.
“Light of the Seven,” the piece from last season’s trial scene, really stands out. It has more than 21 million listens on Spotify. Why do you think people gravitated toward that song?
In the six seasons of Game of Thrones, we never used piano before, so just the fact that the instrumentation changed so dramatically alerted everybody right away. The length of the piece, the way it builds, there was just something haunting about it. Also, because there was so little dialogue, the music really had to carry that scene.
People really associate that piece of music with the powerful scene, which is also one of my favorite scenes of the show. How slowly [the incident] builds—there are very few instruments that come in, one by one, until it finally climaxes with the orchestra at the end—people just connect with that emotionally.
What kind of unusual instruments can we expect to see at the concert?
[One is] called the hammered dulcimer. I use that a lot for Arya’s scene. It’s during a piece called “Needle” that I’ll be playing [it] myself. It’s a stringed instrument. It’s kind of hard to describe.
We have a Wildling horn that’s 12 feet long. That will be really interesting to see. … That’s what’s exciting about this concert—people will be seeing instruments that are not [commonly used] in an orchestra. People will hear the sound they might have heard throughout the entire show and on the soundtrack, but they don’t necessarily know what the instrument looks like. I think that will be nice.